"Hard Drive Gold" is a slightly tongue-in-cheek fantasy about a 15-year-old boy who becomes a millionaire overnight trading cryptocurrency. Singer Joe Newman recounts the different reactions to his financial success, including his teacher:
My teacher took me to one side and told me I was scum
I left then Googled "neoliberal"
And his neighbor:
Clearly Mom has talked to Neo with the Audi
The next morning he shouts from his door
Don't be afraid to make, to make money, boy
"It feels like we've been living through this sort of crypto gold rush, and it's an interesting time. It's a fun thing to write a song about," keyboardist Gus Unger-Hamilton told Apple Music. "I can think of several books I read as a kid that were to do with children becoming incredibly rich. It's almost like a classic theme."
The story of James Howells inspired the "Hard Drive Gold" song title. In 2013, the Newport, Wales IT worker accidentally dumped his hard drive containing the 64-character key to his Bitcoin fortune at a landfill. Howells' local council refused him permission to search for the old computer parts, leaving it buried under piles of garbage. His lost treasure chest is now worth hundreds of millions of pounds.
Alt-J wrote "Hard Drive Gold" in uncharacteristically rapid time after Joe Newman came up with the chord structure and melody while messing around on his sofa. "Within the space of maybe half an hour, I'd written this rough structure," he told Apple Music. "I played it to the band, and they responded just as quickly. Sometimes you have to get out of the way of the song and just let it gather momentum itself."
Joe Newman co-directed the surreal video with his partner, the Australian choreographer Darcy Wallace. The clip marks Newman's directorial debut. "Growing up enjoying cinema greatly, I saw our music videos as opportune moments for directors to create stories purely and so we the band did not appear in our videos," he said. "By avoiding cuts to a band playing in an 'aeroplane hangar,' the audience could focus on the cinema over the indie band music video tropes."
"I had ideas for videos that I passed on to directors to develop, watching these directors execute some of these ideas inspired me," Newman continued, "and now I want to understand and experience the process at a deeper level."
"Hard Drive Gold" was partly inspired by drummer Thom Green's venture into the WallStreetBets subreddit, where participants discuss stock and option trading. By a fluke he joined the news aggregation just in time for the 2020 GameStop boom. "It really blew up and I was like, 'This is quite a lot of money,'" Green recalled to The Independent
. "I started to panic because I was just like, 'I have to sell this at the right time.' I started to sell it before it reached the peak and then I just deleted the app because I couldn't deal with the stress anymore."
The mothers of Joe Newman (Anna Zara Newman) and Gus Unger-Hamilton (Cordelia Unger-Hamilton) both contribute spoken vocals to the song.
My teacher took me to one side and told me I was (scum)
Cordelia Unger-Hamilton is a teacher, and Joe Newman thought it would be funny if she said the word "scum" in a teacher's voice.